Emotional infrastructure

Many companies spend huge amounts of money on ‘branding’. In an attempt to create an image that will be acknowledged by their target group as well as to proclaim a brand promise. Based of course on the assumption that when people can identify with what the company stands for, this will generate new clients as well as keeping clients loyal to them. But if you only focus on the exterior, without ensuring that the inside is in line with it, then ultimately it’s a waste of money. And I’m not referring to not having your business processes working effectively so that you can deliver on your promises. Of course that’s important. But at least as important is how the employees behave. How much do they identify with the product and with the company’s image? And to what extent do they embody the values of the company? In other words, how is the emotional infrastructure organised?

Does this all sound a bit vague? Then here are some examples to make my point clearer. What happens to your image of a company if you have a complaint and the response you get is a total lack of concern for you and your problem? Or let’s say you’re at a party and the person you’re talking to starts criticising the company he/she works for. And what if you want to help a client but your colleague with a 9-to-5 mentality doesn’t want to spend that extra little bit of time and energy? These are all cases that have everything to do with mentality and involvement, and these can’t be captured or nurtured in processes and procedures. So even though you may have carefully built up a really positive image on the outside, ultimately that image will be destroyed during execution. And that negative effect will be further reinforced because research has shown that, on average, a bad experience is passed on 7 times more often than a positive one.

That’s why it’s vital to pay attention to the emotional infrastructure. To devote time and energy into creating a culture in which employees are involved with the product and in achieving the goals of ‘their’ company. And that they are proud of what the company stands for and consider it an honour to be working for that company.

Creating such an atmosphere is not a rational process, where the CEO’s New Year’s speech explains why it’s so crucial to be customer-oriented, while highlighting the ‘targets’ for the coming year on an immaculately designed chart. No, it’s about this CEO telling his people what the company stands for and what impact it wants to make on society – passionately and full of conviction and integrity. Figures are ‘just’ by-products, however important they might be. Google and Apple are examples of companies where such a culture is in place. What they do differently from other companies is eloquently explained here by Simon Sinek (author of Start with WHY). Watch his presentation, in which he makes the following thought-provoking statement: ‘If you hire people to execute a task, they will work for their money. But if you hire people who believe in what you believe in, they’ll work for you with blood, sweat and tears.’

Creating such a culture starts with answering the fundamental question: what impact does the company want to make in society? And when it comes to hiring new staff, to consciously ask them why they want to work for the company. What can they identify with, what aspects do they feel attracted to, what is their dream for the company, where do they see opportunities to contribute to a better society? In addition to the recruitment policy, it’s essential for the entire HR policy to be brought into line with this vision and that all employee- and management development programmes are based on this premise. So that a culture can be created in which attention is paid to decisiveness, goals and results (the functional infrastructure) as well as to ‘softer’ elements such as pride, commitment and trust (the emotional infrastructure). And ultimately to have the guts to ask those employees or managers whose thinking and behaviour is solely driven by the functional aspects – rather than on emotional involvement – to leave the company.

All this is in line with the core messages of Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’. The book is a study written in easy to understand language in which extensive and lengthy research is analysed to establish what makes American companies more successful, over a very long period of time, than other companies. The findings include: the leaders of these companies are modest, decisive, good listeners, determined, loving, confrontational, disciplined – and have faith in their chosen strategy. And a culture exists within the company in which everyone is disciplined, full of confidence, open and intrinsically motivated. In fact, the writer recommends, amongst other things: ‘Good people first; selecting the best – not the most expensive – people is much more important than vision or strategy.’

And here is my consideration for you. When you view the balance between attention paid to the functional infrastructure at your company and to the emotional structure, what do you see? Your challenge this time is to consciously create and tell a company story in the coming weeks about what your company stands for and what impact it wants to achieve in society. And if you want to know what elements such a story needs to comply with, re-read my article on the art of storytelling.

Long live emotional connections!

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